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Boston’s Chinatown Storefront Library

By David Cheng

More than half a century has passed since Boston’s Chinatown residents last had a place of their own to just sit down and read.  Instead of theaters that lined Washington Street in the 1950s, today there are restaurants, grocery stores and street vendors — plenty to satisfy an appetite, but books have been a different story.

On October 14, a long-awaited vision for a Chinatown Library finally became reality.  With 3,000-square-feet of space contributed for three months by Archstone Apartments the Chinatown Storefront Library opened at 640 Washington St.  It will rely on donations from publishers and area families. Supporters hope this project can lead to a more permanent home. It already won an extra month from Archstone, when it extended the lease.

“The project was conceived as a temporary library for several reasons.  One was to activate vacant space along Washington Street.  The Boston Street Lab, one of the producers of this project, has a mission to take vacant spaces and use them in more creative ways to bring more street life.  So the idea was to really partner with an organization that could actually donate space,” said Amy Cheung, the library’s program manager.

“The other idea is that we actually want the city at one point to step in and open a permanent library so this is almost an experiment or demonstration project to show to the city and residents and the supporters what the potential of the library could be –but we’re not here to provide permanent services.”

Six years ago, the Chinese Youth Initiative, a branch of the Chinese Progressive Association, decided that a library  was vital but missing resource in Chinatown.  Their participation only went as far as getting the library idea launched.  After that, a team of the Boston Street Lab, Friends of the Chinatown Library, and city’s Department of Micro-Urbanism raised funds for the venture, Cheung said.

“I think a library in Chinatown is incredibly important because it serves several different functions.  It serves as a social meeting space for people, it serves as sort of the front line place for people to get resources.  It serves as a place for people to get books and materials, reading resources, and right now Chinatown doesn’t have a library so I think there’s been a big gap for many years,” she added.

A large gap indeed.

The last time a library branch in  Chinatown opened its doors was the same year Elvis Presley first broke into the United States music charts and the only time a pitcher threw a perfect game in the World Series. The Tyler Street branch had closed in 1938, drawing protests and briefly reopened from 1951-56 , before it was demolished to make way for construction of the city’s Central Artery elevated highway — since replaced by the Big Dig‘s underground roadway.

But some residents don’t think the new library is a good idea.

“I don’t think that they put it in the right spot.  I mean just from experience of living in Chinatown I haven’t seen a lot of teenagers wandering around the city, at least around this area and I know the history of this area being the Combat Zone and all,” Tom Beauregard, a Chinatown resident.

“Yeah it’s cleaned up, but just from experience I’ve had people ask me if I wanted drugs just by walking on Washington Street right by where the new library is.  If I was a parent I don’t think I would want my kids hanging around that area regardless of the time of day.”

With school libraries available to students and the Internet offering research help everywhere, around-the-clock, there are some skeptics but response to the new library has been overwhelming, said Sam Davol, who coordinated the library project with Boston Street Lab.

“I think it’s great because I don’t think anybody in Chinatown would want to go down to Copley to go down to the library anyway, especially kids.  So it gives them a place that’s close by to learn and get off the streets,” said Hunter Hughes, an Emerson College student and current resident of Chinatown said.  “I mean, could it be used for anything more useful?  Honestly, not that I know of.  I think education for kids is very important.”

Chinatown Library Slideshow

(photos by David Cheng)


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Hub Shoppers Have Two Weeks To Hunt For Bargains

By Dave Cheng and Nicola Hassapis

Bells are ringing, lights are twinkling yet shoppers are waiting for last-minute sales or a chance to hold onto their hard-earned dollars a little longer in Boston’s downtown shopping district.

“People are definitely more conservative in their spending,” said Susan Ellis, who works in the cosmetics department at Macy’s in Downtown Crossing. “But we say the same thing every year and get panic-stricken, and then they all come out the last week.” Continue reading

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You Can Help – Tips For Giving

by Emily Holden

People who want to give but may not have the funds are finding other ways to support the causes and organizations who serve others at the holidays. Sometimes giving money is just not an option and new and gently used items can be just as helpful. Here are things to know about donating used goods, from Charity Navigator.

Determine whether the items are useful.

Clothing, household items, books and shoes may be gently-used but things like personal care items must be brand new for health and safety reasons. That means no opened bottles of lotion or makeup. Put yourself in the recipient’s position: If you wouldn’t wear the jeans with holes in the knees, chances are they wouldn’t either. Don’t donate anything that is unusable or beyond repair.

Start locally and find the right organization.

Additional transportation reduces the impact of your donation so avoid unnecessary travel to donation sites. Chances are you can find a charity right in your own neighborhood. Begin by looking in your local community for a charity that will accept your items. Schools, churches and government buildings or office buildings often act as collection centers for various causes and agencies.

Search to find a particular cause.

Organizations like Charity Navigator can help you find specific charities or organizations such as your local Salvation Army office. Log onto and you can search for specific groups looking for the items you wish to donate.

Consider selling items and donating the money to charity.

Selling things you own and contributing proceeds to a charity gives the recipient the greatest flexibility when it comes to choosing what it needs most. Also, by selling the items yourself, you eliminate any for-profit middle man that might take a cut of the donation. Great places to sell your items include eBay and Craig’s List. You may also consider holding a multifamily yard sale and donating proceeds to a charity.

Happy giving!

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Charities See Growing Demands, Fewer Donations

by Cassandra Baptista

Boston charities are feeling the strain to meet a greater need for goods and services after two years of a difficult economy for non-profits and contributions of cash or goods.

“It looks like it’s a little tougher this year,” said Thomas Langdon, director of community relations and development for Boston’s office of The Salvation Army. “In past years, people really were stepping to the plate. We really haven’t been seeing that this year.”

There are few bills larger than $1 in the kettles these days. Based on the organization’s annual report statistics, the demand for more specific items and services has increased such as, meals, shelter, coats, and holiday gifts. For example, in the past year, the number of coats distributed increased reached 13,000. (Click for related story on goods donations and how you can help)

And he’s not alone. Wayne Pozzar, food acquisition associate at the Greater Boston Food Bank, has seen a decline in food donations. GBFB is a nonprofit organization that “distributes more than 30 million pounds of food annually…to a network of nearly 600 member hunger-relief agencies,” he said.

Pozzar explained that the organization’s 2008 hunger study found 90% of its member food pantries and soup kitchens agree that the demand in Boston is up.

“Companies seem to have less to spare,” he added. “Supermarkets are now putting out discount aisles.”

One measure of need is The Salvation Army served 1,189,694 meals so far this year—equal to almost two meals per Boston resident.

And to counter the projected decrease in donations, the Salvation Army put out kettles earlier this year, because of the increased need. But a different kind of donation came when representatives were setting up the kettles: 45 people offered not to donate, but to work.

“We’ve never experienced that before,” Landon said. “These are people who just can’t find work, so they’ll ring a bell for $8 an hour.”

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Hub Preps For Less “Ho” in Holidays

by Kelly Burnett

Decorations may be red-and-green but economists are finding a gray mood as shoppers head to the stores. High unemployment, shrinking consumer credit and limited holiday spending may crimp gift-giving in the Hub. Continue reading

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Some Trade Big $ Gifts for Crafts

by Maressa Levy

Bostonians are turning to alternative methods of holiday shopping, avoiding crowded malls and department stores in favor of area craft fairs.

Harvard Square’s Holiday Craft Fair is in its 24th season, featuring craftspeople and customers from all over New England. At the corner of Church Street and Massachusetts Avenue in the basement of the First Parish Unitarian Church, the fair runs for roughly 12 days throughout November and December and sells everything from wind chimes made from old cutlery to handmade soaps.

Leslie Gray is one on the founders, and said shopping at the fair provides a different environment than a traditional shopping mall, or even a small shop.

“Most days people just stream down the stairs, and the place fills up. People are here selling what they make, or are small businesses with a very definite connection to their crafts,” Gray said. “The atmosphere is very upbeat; I often say it’s like a party where you can buy stuff. Though there are ‘regular’ exhibitors, we try to bring in fresh talent every year, and encourage young craftspeople to apply.”

Gray added that despite the current economy, sales have remained high.

“The days have varied, but overall most (vendors) have been happy- I do think some people have the economy in mind, and have either lowered their prices or made things specifically at a lower price point,” Gray said. “Hopefully, the closer we get to Christmas the busier we’ll be.”

Just down the street, Harvard Square’s Cambridge Artists Cooperative (CAC) is a three-level gallery showcasing work by more than 250 artists from all over the United States.

Since 1989 the Co-op has been run entirely by artists, as an outlet for handmade American crafts.

Artist Marcia Dean creates jewelry and quilts for CAC, and has been a Co-op member and contributor since the gallery’s opening. She said the growing popularity of crafts has helped bring customers to the gallery.

“It’s been great for us. (The fair) drives more people to the Square to shop,” Dean said. “Unless an artist is just starting out, prices are pretty uniform; ornaments, rugs and jewelry are popular items, and they run from $12- $2000.”

While these events are popular, artisans are also turning to internet marketing to sell their goods, from self-launched merchandising websites to larger aggregator sites, like the popular craft site Etsy. And other Boston neighborhoods are seeing similar increases in both events and interest.

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Want to Sleep No More?

“Don’t be alarmed if you get there and it doesn’t look like much,” the receptionist at the American Repertory Theater tells me as I purchase my ticket to their latest production, Sleep No More. “It’s not really supposed to.”

From the outside, the Old Lincoln School in Brookline certainly doesn’t impose itself onto passerby, especially in the dark, blustery fall evening. Two ushers in black coats wait on the street to show you your way to the back entrance of the school, which is only the beginning of the maze that audience members must stumble through to experience the British “adventure theater” company Punchdrunk’s daring collaboration. This full-immersion experience is a collaboration with Cambridge-based A.R.T.

Winding through dark corridors lit by little flickering lights, you emerge into a swinging 1940s bar, where you are promptly handed a playing card and instructed to kick back and have a drink until that card is called. When summoned, you are instantly swept into Punchdrunk’s world of experimental theater. A cackling host hands out V-for-Vendetta-esque white masks, which audience members must wear at all times in the space, to distinguish themselves from the actors.

“A lot of people are looking for a more visceral theater experience,” says Mikhael Garver, the staff director for the show. “Punchdrunk is definitely the leader of doing that kind of performance internationally. No one does it with the level of depth and clarity than they do.”

Indeed, the production is more than just a performance – it is a sensory explosion. The abandoned school’s high ceilings and linoleum-tiled floors are completely transformed into eerie, elaborate scenes that host directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle have made into a living, breathing, largelysilent interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth blended with Hitchcock’s 1940’s psychological thriller Rebecca. Add swarms of white faces floating in the darkness down dimly lit hallways, and the effect is completely surreal.

“The architecture in the school was exactly the kind of look and feel we wanted for the piece,” says Garver of the space. “We wanted a space to bring something to the table, and our design construction team made amazing use of beauty that already existed in this building.”

For city officials, the production is a bottom-line success and a critical one. Faced with the prospect of having to pay for the upkeep of the school after town hall employees moved out of its temporary office space in May, Brookline was relieved to have the theater swoop in and make such revolutionary use of the school.

“For us, it means there are many restaurants in Brookline Village that will be able to keep their lights on this fall because of the added foot traffic,” Kara Brewton, the town’s economic development director, told the Brookline TAB.

– Talia Ralph

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JP’s Art Mecca: South Street

The art scene on South Street in Jamaica Plain serves its community as a grassroots rival to the grandiose museums and full-fledged galleries of downtown Boston.

You can find anything from vintage to retro to contemporary fashions at Forty South Street.  There’s a community owned, not-for profit market across the street called the Harvest Co-op for fresh, often organic, local produce.  You can even learn how to fix your bike or buy a refurbished one at Ferris Wheels Bike Shop, and the popular Boston Public Library Jamaica Plain branch is on the corner.

“Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, all ethnicities, we respect each other in JP,” said Steve Alexander, mosaic artist and manager at the JP Art Market Studio and Gallery in Jamaica Plain.

Alexander is a volunteer at the studio, a veteran of the US military and long-time resident of Jamaica Plain.  He found his way into the studio as an artist himself, looking for a place to display his art in his community.

It’s true that JP has an abundance of art.  What is obvious in the community today is a need for places for the neighborhoods many artists to show their work.  For now, artists are turning to South Street’s galleries, local businesses like J.P. Licks, and even the Jamaica Plain Branch of the Boston Public Library.

James Morgan, a Jamaica Plain resident and branch librarian, says the branch appreciates the work that artists donate to the library for showcase.

“We’re involved with the Business Association who sponsors performances and art showings on the first Thursday of every month during the nice weather.  There’s so many artists in JP, we really wanted to get involved.”

Many of the paintings are strategically placed on the library’s walls to cover holes that need filling.  Rather than a run down atmosphere, the art helps to create one of liveliness.

In November, the library will feature photography of the neighborhood by numerous artists.

A new gallery, named The Hallway, opened just a few doors down from the JP Art Market Studio in May.  The new studio features exclusively local artists from the Boston area, and is especially ideal for up-and-coming artists.  The owner gives nearly any artist the chance to showcase and sell their work – so long as they volunteer to work for him a few hours a week.

But perhaps what is even more remarkable about South Street is it’s sense of community.  With two art galleries on the same block, one might think there would be competition, but not here.  In fact, Steve Alexander of the Art Market Studio says it’s just the opposite.

“There’s more talent here than anywhere in the world I would say, I am always over impressed by the talent here.  The city just isn’t standing up and seeing it as a Mecca of art, we should be showcasing this work [to the public]” said Alexander.

Massimo Giardo, a graduate of Mass Art, just began showcasing his work in The Hallway studio and has already sold some of his pieces.

“I think this place is really good for local artists that want to get people to see their work and who want feedback,” said Giardo.

New artwork can be seen on the first Thursday of every month at a launch party, then on the last day of the month there is a silent auction.  Artists lower the prices of their pieces, and let the bidders decide how much their artwork is worth.

Overall, Jamaica Plain’s artists treat their community as a community.  Rather than petty competition, they seem to thrive off of each other’s successes so long as it helps their arts community grow.

Says Steve Alexander, “We’re encouraging The Hallway, we want people to see the range of what art means to other people.  The same goes for the library.  They see that art speaks like books, we can both read Moby Dick and get a different feeling, the same as can happen from looking at a painting.”

Someday, maybe, JP will be home to galleries comparable to those in other neighborhoods, and more importantly, galleries that will hold the immense amount of work the communities’ artists have to show.

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Jamaica Plain’s Arnold Arboretum

When you get off the Orange Line T at Forest Hills, it seems like any other residential area of Boston.  Houses line the streets, and there are nearly no businesses in sight.  However, many city dwellers and Boston suburb residents travel here every day to visit Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum.

Maria Sparaggi, a seventeen-year resident of Forest Hills walks through the Arboretum occasionally when she’s going to Faulkner Hospital.

“It’s amazing,” says Sparaggi.  “There’s a place with all different kinds of Christmas trees, a garden of roses, and at the end of my walk I always visit the walnuts.”

The Arboretum features bonsai, centenarians, conifers, lilacs, rosaceous plants, a shurb and vine garden, and hundreds of different types of trees.  The entire area is a remarkable 265 acres, including main roads for bikers, and several paths and hills for those looking to really lose themselves in nature – a true escape from the busy traffic of the city.

Right now, workers at the Arboretum are focused on their newest project known as Weld Hill, potentially the first research facility on the grounds.

Sheryl White, the visitor education assistant and tour coordinator, says Weld Hill will provide labs for researchers at Harvard studying botany and biology.

“It will allow researchers to bring students in and will provide research offices for some of the staff here.”

Weld Hill is a green facility, something that is becoming more prominent in the community.  Boston Green Buildings, a sustainable contractor, held a forum in Jamaica Plain on October 3 to inform residents and businesses on how to become more energy efficient.

According to White, “Something like 95 percent of materials from recycling will be reused either here or will be donated elsewhere. We’re keeping all the soil on the site and then it will be integrated back into the site.”

Beyond its attraction to visitors of the neighborhood, the Arboretum has opened it’s doors to visitors from all walks of life.  According to White, they are now focusing their tours on the greater public in Boston, as well as students from any Boston Public School.

“We do lots of tours. We have programs with schools in the spring and the fall. We run a lot of programs in conjunction with the schools and individual classes curriculum,” said White.

The Arboretum educates adults on their walking tours, provides field studies for children in cooperation with their science curriculum, has family activities, and even has online exhibits for anyone who is interested.

Employees and volunteers at the Arboretum work very hard to provide an open, educational atmosphere for visitors.  General questions can be answered at the visitor center, as well as by any groundskeeper you happen to run into on the trails.

Tours are given every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment with the visitor center.

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Newbury Street’s new, fashionable residents

By Katie Shushtari

The British are marching in and with them they’re bringing Ted Baker, Hotel Chocolat and Ben Sherman. Jonathan Adler joins the Newbury newbies as well, adding a flair all his own.

In the past month, the Boston fashion scene has been talking about several international, fashion conscious stores that have found new homes on the city’s upscale street.

“Newbury Street is the international college kids Mecca, which is why I think that this British invasion will be a perfect match for Boston,” said NECN’s Style Boston producer, Desi Gonzalez.

The stores, of course, sell products, but also sell an attitude not normally seen on Newbury Street.

“It’s really exciting,” said Alex Hall, editor of Fashion Boston. Magazine, “Newbury Street hasn’t seen these kind of globally minded stores in a long time.”

Ted Baker, whose motto is “no ordinary design label,” prides himself on advertising through word of mouth, as apposed to ads in newspapers, magazines and television. On opening day, the store handed out 1,000 pairs of “Boston Ted Sox.”

Inside, the store on Newbury Street is inspired by a “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” theme, including checkerboard floors and green hedges shaped as teapots, evoking a truly British experience. Although, Hall describes Baker as a “tad less bold and forward thinking.”

Hotel Chocolat opened its first U.S. stores on Newbury Street and in the Chestnut Hill Mall. According to its website, the U.K. brand is committed to a “combination of authentic, premium ingredients with plenty of imagination and flair.”

Though the store took over a year-and-a-half to open, Ben Sherman has hit Newbury Street with a bang.

“The store is incredibly cool,” said Assistant Store Manager Sam Tiews. “It’s a prototype store which means it is one of a kind.”

Inside of the new Ben Sherman calls to mind a classic British mansion, Tiews explained, with fireplaces, sconces, and hard wood floors. Teapots, mopeds, and punching bags are mounted elegantly on the walls and above the fireplaces.

“I think Ben Sherman has the most fashion moxie and cred, and has an esthetic that’s very indefinable,” Hall said. “The quality of the clothes and the beautiful, well-tailored shirts are just wonderful.”

Gonzalez said she believes that Sherman has the most avant-garde style. “Ben Sherman’s sleek designs cater to the fashion conscious students around back bay,” she said.

We’re most famous for its Oxford button down shirt, a staple in almost everyone’s wardrobe, Tiews explained. “Arty Sugarman, the founder of Ben Sherman and wild guy, embodies the kind of anti-cool style that we’re famous for,” she said.

Jonathan Adler, whose philosophy is “Happy Chic,” may be from New York instead of Britain but he has also got a new address on Newbury Street.

“I know Jonathan Adler is a New York-based store and not British, but he has a flair that cannot be defined by a country,” Gonzalez said.

Hall agreed, adding a little hometown pride. “Jonathan Adler is an excellent score for Newbury Street.”

“We chose to come to Newbury Street because it’s a high traffic area, with lots of tourists and fashion conscious people,” said store manager Adam Verboys.

Jonathan Adler’s designs involve intensely bright colors and bold prints, Verboys explained. “We wanted to bring to Boston a happy environment and fun elements of design,” he said.

Gonzalez and Hall both said they believe all four stores will do quite well in the Boston fashion atmosphere.

“We might be in recession here in the U.S but these international students come from wealthy backgrounds and love to hang and spend their parents money around Boston’s most fashionable shopping district,” Gonzalez said.

Check out the locations of all four stores!

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